As more and more healthcare systems search for a way to be competitive, and be better able to deal with a healthcare landscape that is in a state of flux, greater emphasis is being placed on employee engagement.

Borrowing a chapter from Virgin Group Founder Richard Branson’s playbook, the idea is that if we take care of our staff, our doctors, nurses and frontline folks, we won’t have to worry about patient care quality.

When employees are allowed to pursue purpose-driven work, we don’t have to worry about retention, recruitment or many of the other things that have you pulling your hair out.

And, as any good marketer knows, if the brand is hitting on all cylinders from an operations and quality perspective, then advertising campaigns become easy to do.

Engaged companies, inside and outside healthcare, have some things in common.  We’ve narrowed it down to 10.  But first, a couple of points.

What is engagement?

Engaged employees are those who are fully involved in and enthusiastic about their work. Engaged employees care about the future of the organization, and are willing to invest the discretionary effort to see that the hospital succeeds.  They love their jobs.

Where is the benchmark?

According to Gallop and others who monitor employee engagement, the average company in America has only about 29% of its workers who self-identify as engaged.  In healthcare, the number is greater.  We estimate the average hospital to have somewhere around 62 percent of employees who are engaged.  Why?   It seems possible, if not probable, that the discrepancy in baseline levels between hospitals and the rest of the workforce is that someone who has chosen healthcare as a profession is motivated by taking care of others.  They are by their very nature engaged in their work, and may, or may not, be engaged with their employer.

Whether or not you agree with this assessment, the conclusion is the same.  If you want your staff performance to be greater than your competitors, then you should be shooting for engagement scores north of the 70th percentile, and probably north of 80 before it really shows up as a differentiator.

How do you achieve this?  Here are the 10 attributes, as we see them, for highly engaged healthcare organizations.

1:  Clearly defined purpose and values.

We all want to work for companies who want to make the world a better place.   Make sure your purpose and values are not only inspiring, but they live in the culture of your organization.  People don’t recite the value statement at Google or Boston Consulting Group, they live it.  Not because it’s forced upon them, but because they’ve been inspired to be engaged.

2:  The culture is “bottom up.”

Culture starts from the top, but it’s built from the bottom.  This means giving your managers the tools they need to build relationships with the staff.  In engaged cultures, the relationship between frontline staff and the manager trumps everything.

3:  Engaged cultures are transparent.

Everybody is in the loop. Everyone gets to ask questions and expect answers.

4: Information and answers are easy to get.

Whether it’s having access to brown-bag luncheons or having a well-organized intranet, the ability to get to answers on demand is important.

5:  Engaged cultures facilitate collaboration and the creation of communities.

This is about breaking down silos, creating synergy and helping employees find others who share their passions and interests.  Sometimes the desire is to network with others who do the same job, sometimes it might be lifestyle driven.  But enabling peer-to-peer interaction pays off in increased loyalty and camaraderie.

6: Engaged cultures use best-practice technology.

More and more companies are heeding employee requests for highly functioning, mobile-first intranets to apps that allow employees to access information and communicate with their employers in the same way they use technology to interact with the rest of the world.

7. Internal and external messaging is aligned.

The best companies manage internal communications, not as a means to transmit information top down, but as a means of informing, educating, and inspiring by providing clarity, relevance, praise and validation.  They are focused on reinforcing the values at every turn.  They know their audiences and they target messaging appropriately.  Communication is planned and integrated, and constant.

8. Innovation and creativity are expressly encouraged.

9.  Wins are celebrated.  Performance is praised.  Thanking is relentless.

Engaged leaders don’t miss an opportunity to voice appreciation for the work being done by others and they express a passionate commitment to serving their teams.

10.  Accountability.

Engaged cultures make expectations of performance clear, and communicate feedback on an ongoing basis.  Much of this is done at the manager’s level.  Annual reviews are overshadowed by constant, ongoing feedback.

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